Monthly Archives: June 2020

Sedra of the week:
Naso – Nobility with Responsibility

Naso – Nobility with Responsibility

Most of the year, Jews around the world read the same parsha. But this week we read Naso, while in Israel they have moved ahead to Beha’alotekha, because the second day of Shavuot coincided with Shabbat.

Naso, meaning “to lift up” or “to appoint”, begins with the designation of the Levi tribe to their respective duties in transporting the disassembled Mishkan (Tabernacle). A variation of the word also appears toward the end of the parsha in describing the gifts brought prior to the Tabernacle dedication by the 12 princes (Nasi – “one who is elevated”, plural Nesi’im).

Rashi explains the Nesi’im had been tribal leaders in Egypt. When Pharaoh sought someone to blame, they took the beating. Through the merit of their suffering, they were privileged to bring these dedication offerings.

Nasi therefore implies “nobility combined with responsibility” in a role that gives purpose to previous suffering and connection to the wider community.

We are in the easing stage of the Covid-19 lockdown, beginning to assess the landscape of how we’ll continue as an Anglo-Jewish community. Early in the crisis, our Jewish leadership heard that noble call and created a relief fund.

Naso reminds us it’s important for all of us to come forward with gifts. Where we may wish to reduce contributions, those who are capable should do their best this year to keep or exceed the same level of giving to the charities of our choice.

The future tense variation of the Naso verb occurs in the Priestly Blessing within the parsha, which states: “(Yisa) May God lift you up and grant you peace!”

Through our re-dedication efforts, may the Almighty grant us a safe return to communal life and to peace.

Click here for link to Jewish News article

Shavuot- Counting the Days & the Weeks

As the UK ‘lockdown’ begins to ease, here is a reflection on the meaning of Shavuot as we experience it in this time of pandemic.


Many of us have been counting 7 days and 7 weeks since the 2nd night of Passover – in anticipation of Shavuot, the Jewish festival that commemorates the giving of the 10 Commandments.

As Moshe, toward the end of his life, told the young generation of Israelites who had survived wandering in the desert (Deut. 4:33-34), ‘Did ever a people hear the voice of G-d speaking out of the midst of fire, as you have, and lived?’ The awesome experience of being in the Divine Presence at Sinai after escaping oppression in Egypt, catalyzed our ancestors into becoming a distinct nation, with 10 categories of responsibilities to the Almighty and to each other.

But sustainability isn’t accomplished by words alone. The Jewish people needed a place and practices to experience G-d’s presence every day and a code of behaviour to ensure we were looking after each other properly.

Following the initial shock and fear that COVID-19 induced, we realized things would get worse before they got better. With reluctant acceptance, we assessed and adapted communal life, learning that although we couldn’t practice as usual we could find new ways to connect. Communities shifted to virtual gatherings, to pray together, celebrate together, to reach out to one another, to study, sing, and mourn together.

Once we had settled into our adapted ‘temporary’ reality, we reconnected with our community partners, people of all faiths and backgrounds, and realized that even when we are isolated at home, we can come together to do small acts of kindness for others. Now, more than ever, unity, connection and caring for the vulnerable and isolated is of the utmost importance.

Earlier this month hundreds joined us to Cook-along with Maureen Lipman as part of Every Mitzvah Matters. The act of cooking a hearty, nutritious homemade meal filled with love for another person, showed how much we care. This created ripples throughout families and local neighbourhoods and taught us that we can all do something small to put a smile on someone’s face.

As I mentioned earlier, for the past 7 weeks we’ve done a lot of counting. We’ve counted days in isolation without seeing loved ones and we’ve paid close attention to the COVID-19 infection rates. As the figures have slowly started to recede, we have begun to breathe a sigh of relief, whilst acknowledging that minority communities including our own, have been deeply hit.

There is still much collective uncertainty, although we hope to slowly shift towards familiar patterns. We must acknowledge that the world we will be returning to will not look or feel the same. The accumulated sense of loss and suffering will need to be addressed. We will have to see how much of the economy can be rescued. We must be aware that those most vulnerable prior to COVID-19 will continue to be incredibly vulnerable, and very likely the numbers of vulnerable people will rise even further.

Midrash Tanhuma describes the voice of G-d at Sinai as having emerged when the world was in total silence. It further informs that this Heavenly voice continues daily to ring out those primordial words ‘I am the Lord, your G-d’, calling us to listen and to return to the Truth of all Truths.

For me, this period of counting has given the opportunity to take measure. I’ve enjoyed the birdsong, occasional walks in a nearby nature reserve, and moments of pristine silence.

This year’s Omer, counting period, helped me realize that the true meaning of Shavuot is more than commemorating receiving the 10 Commandments at the base of Mount Sinai once a year, and it’s more than bringing those spiritual duties into my home through Mitzvot. Shavuot is hearing the Almighty’s voice echoing every day in the silence of my own heart.

Each of us is made in the image of the Divine, and I believe when we listen to and find the Heavenly voice inside ourselves we can recognize it in others. It doesn’t matter what faith or background we come from, or how we practice, but simply that we are all human. Only then can healing begin and we can rebuild the world we wish to create.

Let us take this time as we celebrate the gift of the Torah, of harvests and the blossoming of new fruits, to remember what truly matters and what we wish to take with us into the uncertain future ahead.

And of course, let’s enjoy some delicious cheesecake!

Moadim LeSimcha

Rabbi Jeff and the Mitzvah Day Team